Consent is not the new “game”.
Ask before you touch, check. Stop unless you hear anything other than an enthusiastic yes, check. Do not continue to ask with the hopes of convincing that person to say yes. Check, Check, Check. While talking openly about consent is certainly a step forward, we are doing ourselves a disservice to herald this as the good guy measuring stick. When someone says “yes, please” to sex, it does not give you permission to treat them like an object. Obtaining consent or an enthusiastic yes is not a fail safe for leaving others unharmed. Consent is not an obstacle to be surpassed. Above all, consent is not the new “game”.
Why the focus on “checking boxes” to assure we’re in the clear? The people we affect are still people. We shouldn’t be reducing them to that of a transmission test. Your goal in obtaining consent should not be to pass a barrier but to actually get the consent and make sure this experience—all of the experience—is one that is wanted. What….were you looking for a playbook to add to your repertoire? If you use a playbook that means you have to be astute and aware of your environment, your audience. Think of it as calling an audible. You have your regular playbook—your consent strategy—but to be the most effective player, you’re likely going to need to call audibles—and probably often.
So, now what? Just when you thought consent was the only thing you had to worry about, there’s more? Trauma need not exist with the presence of a no or the absence of a yes. Seems like an infinite abyss to feel worried about, I know. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard considering you have a working moral compass. (Sorry sociopaths)
So why is all of this overwhelming us in the first place? Fear. Fear drives many humans as an effective—yet sometimes unethical—motivator. As a response, we’ve chosen the path of least resistance: avoidance.
Fear of a false accusation? Avoidance.
Fear of Rejection? Avoidance.
Fear it will be too much effort for what it’s worth? You guessed it again….avoidance.
More college age men are turning to porn as oppose to risking the delusional fear of a false accusation as a result of a one night stand. Opting for worst case scenarios instead of addressing the fear itself. Sure, something can fall and hit you from the sky when you step out the door, but how are you addressing that fear by staying inside 24/7? Avoidance is not a sustainable option, especially when sex and arousal are what equally drive us—another effective motivator. It seems arousal and fear are at odds in terms of satisfying our needs.
But I got consent! How can there be trauma?
What were your actions after the consent? Did you judge, mock or use them in anyway that wasn’t prenegotiated? Was the act of getting consent all a ruse in order to get what you wanted (i.e. the sex) instead of actively listening to their desires? It doesn’t mean you have to get consent for each which way you treat them as if it’s a contract negotiation. It does mean you have to be an active participant and hold space for your person. Ya know, human decency.
But I asked them if they were okay a bunch of times and they didn’t say anything! I’m not a mind reader!
Some people process discomfort differently and the pressure to appear attractive or “cool” in someones eyes may cause someone to “go with the flow” of the evening. How to prevent that? Instead of treating this person as a gatekeeper (to say yes or no) try to understand what they are feelings and what they want. Being vulnerable can be scary. Saying no can be scary. Sometimes the path of least resistance is to not protest. For many who have previously experienced trauma, items, words, or actions that are triggering may cause that person to dissociate—meaning mentally leave their body to flee the familiar feelings of discomfort and pain. This person may become less responsive or not as emotive, especially if the trigger is repeated. That’s why when someone says no, maybe, or not right now—you stop asking. Repeated asking is persistency which can easily turn into coercion. If you’re not sure, then you have more work to do in understanding that person.
Some women are into that! Feeling like an object and being spanked etc…
This is where gender norms come into play, when we reduce the intricacies that make that person an individual due to which genitalia lay between their legs. Some men like to be humiliated. Many don’t. Some men want to have their balls crushed. Many don’t.
There are many things I’ve learned as a dominatrix—-a professional that deal with communication and consent regularly. One of the most critical being that an experience revolves around the likes and dislikes of my submissive. It is my responsibility to uncover those points and navigate within them. It’s not about what I want, it’s about finding a common ground.
Fear that it’s too much effort for what it’s worth?
Spoiler alert: human interactions require communication and some effort. Paying a sex worker is likely the most straightforward approach to a transactional sex act but that’s mostly because SW’s are upfront about their rules and boundaries. Sounds exhausting to do work for every woman you wanna bang, amiright? Especially when sex is already such an exhausting swipe away. We are creatures accustomed to immediacy. I get it, you want minimal effort. There are ways to have a one night stand, without being an asshole.
Again, we will take a cue from the Doms playbook. The Dom may enter with a similar approach for each sub, but alters it in response to their surroundings and feedback. If you remember this is the same have-your-playbook-but-call-audibles reference from earlier.
Fear that there’s no safe-fail to assure you haven't traumatized someone? Unfortunately, people don’t come with instruction manuals—yet. While, there are certain guidelines and precautions you can take, there will always be outliers. If it sounds scary and uncertain that’s because it should. The bottom line is: you may fuck up—and if you do, minimize the damage in case it does happen. Enter a situation knowing that, instead of trying to avoid every fuck up—Which brings us to the next point….
Fear that there’s too much unknown so you’re bound to fuck up?
It’s almost inevitable in your journey of growth, especially if you encounter a multitude of individuals with different histories and boundaries—histories and boundaries which they may not disclose. If we accept that we may make mistakes and vow to make efforts to minimize and learn from any damages, this alleviates some of that pressure. No human is impervious to mistakes. That’s also why we at The Good Guy Project provided so many guides on what to do and how to recover when you get called out. How to apologize
Before you get to that stage there’s a few things you can do to check in and alleviate that don’t have anything to do with consent. Does the person you’re interacting with feel acknowledged? Step aside from your needs and ask yourself what they want.
This goes for any human who may confide in another regarding their kinks, boundaries, traumas etc… When you judge or don’t receive them well, this person is less likely to share in the future. Be a safe space for that person if you want them to be open with you. If they aren’t communicative that lessens your knowledge of their emotional and sexual state, increasing your odds of miscommunication and potentially trauma. Questions are fine if they're inquisitive and not doubting. The person asking questions will always be on the offensive. For that matter, asking for consent can make it all about the person doing the asking. It is about what the asker wants, for which the other party acts as the gatekeeper. Ask yourself what it is that the other person wants from the situation at hand. What is their experience going to be?
When the interaction is over, apply a simple “thank you”. Those are two words I’m sure you have time to utter and they can go a long way. And if you really want to go the extra mile: “Thank you for sharing that experience with me.” After all, someone just shared their body with you, are you not thankful?
So now that we get the buzzword of the year: trauma. A violation of consent isn’t what leads to trauma. In many instances someone grants consent for a sexual act only to be traumatized and violated afterwards. Often times these acts seem trivial to the perpetrator, less likely to be remembered. These acts aren’t “convictable”, so they're not as much of a worry for avoidance. Though it is these acts that may have more lasting effects in shaping one’s life and interactions due to how conveniently they are swept under the rug for everyone but the person who experienced them.
We focus on consent because it is measurable. It is prosecutable (kinda). If you thought consent was the only thing you had to worry about, you’re wrong. You shouldn’t be worrying about consent, you should be conscious of it. Conscious enough to recognize your intent and their desires. Convincing someone to give you consent is still convincing. This is where the enthusiastic part of “enthusiastic yes” comes in. This approach involuntary places other party as the position of the gatekeeper. They may be put on the defensive instead of concerning with their own needs, they’re left to either fulfill or deny yours. The consent is important, but so is the desire behind it. The first step in understanding others intent is by reconciling and recognizing that of your own.
Consent isn’t simple and it shouldn’t be. All of these items require conversation, both internally and between parties. You can still get laid—even woo someone—while inquiring their intent, their desires and potentially satisfying some of your own too. Sex should be mutually beneficial. We should make an effort not to hurt others, though the hurt may happen effortlessly. You’re going to make mistakes. Yes, even you. It is how we respond to them and adjust that defines us.